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Was John Donne a catholic?:conversion, conformity, and early modern English confessional identities

Morrissey, M. ORCID: (2023) Was John Donne a catholic?:conversion, conformity, and early modern English confessional identities. Review of English Studies, 74 (313). pp. 64-77. ISSN 1471-6968

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/res/hgac039


John Donne is usually treated as a convert from Roman Catholicism, and he is often said to have been brought up as a recusant Catholic. This article challenges these assumptions about Donne’s background, showing them to rely too heavily on the surviving records of his mother’s family. By considering the surviving evidence on other members of Donne’s family (his father and stepfather in particular), and by comparing Donne’s choices with those of other young men from similar families, we can understand Donne’s religious identity as one shaped by conformity rather than conversion. This does not mean that Donne ‘merely’ conformed without conscientiously choosing the teaching (and the teaching authority) of the Church of England over that of the Roman Catholic church. It is to argue that, as an adult, Donne described himself as someone who had been a member of the Church of England since his baptism, and so he was not in a position to convert to Protestantism. He chose a ‘local religion’ when he was of an age to make that choice. Donne’s coming to this understanding is not recorded by anyone other than himself because it was unremarkable and legal.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Early Modern Research Centre (EMRC)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
ID Code:104712
Publisher:Oxford University Press


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